Uncle Osagyefo, you may be aware that I am not one of your great fans. I think your tyranny and your obsession with building one African nation, cost this country a great deal. On this day, which would have been your hundredth birthday, I want to join the millions around the world who see you as some sort of demigod to wish you a happy birthday.
This is the first time I am wishing a dead man a happy birthday. It’s quite strange but it gives me yet another opportunity to reflect on what has become of the nation you led to independence. I don’t know whether they allow you, wherever you are, to take a peek into the nation every once in a while. I have no doubt in my mind that if you had an opportunity to see what has become of this country, you would weep until your well of tears – if you still have one – dried up.
I have this feeling that those who die and come to meet you on the other side do not give you the complete picture and they try to ‘sugar coat’ their words to make it appear that all is well here. Nothing could be farther from the truth. That’s why I am writing this missive so that you get to know about the true state of the Ghana you founded.
Let’s start with the good news.
Ghana is now democratic country. In terms of democracy, our country is one of the best in Africa. We have done away – thankfully – with the unmitigated one-party crap you tried to shove down our throats. Multi-party democracy has earned Ghana a lot of international recognition and most of us do not miss an opportunity to tell others about how we occasionally show Africa how to elect its leaders. Last year’s polls were particularly hectic and the tension was palpable. But we braved it and today we have a president who idolises you. And that’s why we are observing today as a national holiday. I am convinced that democratic rule is our best asset as a nation now. It’s the perfect foundation for nation building and that’s why it really saddens me that you, of all people, seemed to think otherwise.
Take away the democratic structures we are trying to build, Osagyefo, and there is little – if any – good news to report.
Most of our politicians today are selfish blockheads who come to power with little vision and an insatiable appetite for plunder. They like to reap where they have not sown. Most of them come to power to enrich themselves through patronage and corruption. But you? You had vision. You had an idea where you wanted to take the nation to. Most of our politicians today don’t.
You dreamt that the nation you led to independence would not depend on outsiders for its survival, but that’s the exact situation we find ourselves in now. Our leaders go around the world cup-in-hand begging for grants, loans, debt-cancellation, used hospital equipment (including chamber pots and mosquito nets) and investments. In fact, one former president who listed travelling as one of his hobbies used begging for investments as an excuse to get on a plane at the least opportunity.
So Osagyefo, the nation you led to independence cannot do anything on its own. The colonialists you chased out do not just give us money to prop up our ever-faltering economy. They also give us money to feed our school children, take care of our pregnant women, sink boreholes, catch drug traffickers, build roads and bridges, and even take care of our garbage. All of this makes me wonder: was independence worth it? Was this what Kwame Nkrumah had in mind?
I don’t think so.
Osagyefo, I also want to inform you that most of the factories you set up have collapsed. Those which survive have been privatised, run by foreigners. I have no problems with foreigners running our companies, I must say. As long as they keep the companies on their feet and employ hardworking Ghanaians, I am happy. But what will you say about, say, the Tema Shipyard, which is now in the hands of the Malaysians? At independence, Ghana was wealthier than Malaysia. Today, Malaysia is what they call an “Asian economic tiger”. And, your Ghana is nothing more than an African economic rat – a pest, which depends on the benevolence of others to survive!
To cut a long story short, Osagyefo, Ghana is a broken nation. It’s not as broken as Liberia, Sierra Leone or DR Congo. But we can’t take pride in the fact that other countries are worse off than we are. However you look at it, ours is a broken nation. Majority of us live in squalor whiles a privileged few live in opulence. We can’t even produce potable water for our people to drink and the other time, a Nigerian minister is reported to have said something to the effect that the amount of water we produce here is so small that it’s not enough to even flush their toilets. His comments really drove the painful point home.
Osagyefo, our educational system is also in utter shambles – the subject of constant experimentation for well over 20 years. We can’t even decide on how best to educate our children. You knew what was best for us – that no Ghanaian child should grow up illiterate and you worked hard to achieve that. I have heard many prominent people say that without you, they would have been unemployable. Our current crop of leaders either do not care or they simply do not know what to do. Instead of building an educational system that will prepare our children for future competition with the Malaysians, South Koreans and the Finns they are squabbling today over who should provide meals for the kids.
The least said about our health system, the better. In this country people die like flies from diseases that have been conquered or subdued in other parts of the world. Our hospitals are so poorly equipped and staffed by over-worked and underpaid doctors, who go on strike more than once every year to demand better pay. Can you believe that pregnant women sleep on benches and the bare floor in a hospital like Korle Bu? Our hospitals are in such bad shape that our leaders prefer to seek treatment abroad at the slightest hint of disease. They know the local hospitals cannot take care of them yet they prefer to buy luxury cars and build mansions. It’s pathetic.
As we celebrate what would have been your 100th birthday, Osagyefo, I want to tell you that much as I am not one of your big fans, I salute your visionary leadership. I appreciate your forward-thinking and the fact that you didn’t use your position as president to enrich yourself. Yet, you didn’t care about ex-gratia and you died in penury.
On this day, as the nation remembers you, I think Ghana needs another Kwame Nkrumah – but without the dictatorial streak and the inordinate obsession to rule a united Africa. We need a new Nkrumah who will not impose one-party rule and jail his political opponents. Our new Nkrumah will be an upgrade on the one we celebrate today. Our next Nkrumah should be a revolutionary leader who will fight with a dogged determination to liberate our country from the shackles of gut-wrenching poverty – just us you led the country out of humiliating colonialism. Our upgraded Nkrumah will build institutions just as you built factories and roads. I hope our next Nkrumah is already in our midst and he’s preparing himself to improve on your record. Otherwise, all you did, all you stood for and all your sacrifices – what we celebrate today – would all have been in vain.
“Revolutions are brought about by men, by men who think as men of action and act as men of thought.” – Kwame Nkrumah